4.3.5 Coin dating analysis

The general patterns of coin recovery from productive sites have previously been discussed in a detailed analysis by Mark Blackburn (2003). The format of the VASLE analysis largely followed that used by Blackburn, so the results are almost identical for the sites that were discussed in his presentation, with the major Northumbrian and Southumbrian circulation patterns he identified clearly visible in these results.

Charts were produced automatically from every site identified in the VASLE analysis. However 27 sites had coin assemblages of less than fifteen coins: Barton Bendish, Canterbury Marlowe, Cliffe and Cliffe Woods, Colkirk, East Rudham, East Walton, Elsham, Firle, Hartlepool, Hindringham, Ixworth, Lackford, Little Wilbraham, Melton Ross, Middle Harling, Narborough, Nettleton, Osbournby, Rocklands, Seething, Swinhope, Tibenham, West Rudham, West Walton, Wharram Percy, Whissonsett, and Wormegay. Where the dating chart nonetheless followed a recognisable pattern, these are noted in the discussion below, but anomalous results from these sites have not been discussed in detail as the assemblages are too small for the results to be taken as significant.

Mark Blackburn characterised a 'Southumbrian pattern' of coin-finds from productive sites as:

... a step up [in the volume of coin finds] with the primary sceattas in the last quarter of the seventh century, but a far more dramatic increase in the first half of the eighth. The sharp fall in the mid eighth century ... is followed by something of a revival towards the end of the century, although the third quarter remains one of the most mysterious periods for the numismatist. For the ninth century, a steady decline in coin finds is seen... After 900 [there is] a fairly progressive increase in the number of finds until the third quarter of the eleventh century (Blackburn 2003, 31)

A number of sites analysed recorded for the VASLE project show these basic coin dating characteristics: Barham, Bawsey, Burnham, East Rudham, Firle, London St Peter's Hill excavation, Meols, 'Near Royston productive site', Oxborough, Reculver, Shalfleet, Southampton (Hamwic). The anomalous spike in the last date range at Meols is due to the inclusion of a large number of 11th-century coins.

A separate, but equally characteristic, Northumbrian pattern could be seen, influenced by the production and circulation (mainly) north of the Humber of a low-denomination copper-based coinage in the 9th century. This pattern is seen in most of the VASLE sites north of the Humber: Bamburgh Castle, Burton Fleming, Cottam A, Cottam B, Cowlam, 'Near Malton productive site 1', Ryther, Whitby Abbey, Whithorn, and York Fishergate. The result from Thwing is slightly anomalous in that the 9th-century peak is a little early (due to relatively few representatives of the local Northumbrian copper-based coinage of kings after Eanred), but it still exhibits the same basic pattern. The coin loss at productive sites in Yorkshire has been subjected to recent detailed analysis by Naylor (2007).

The strong early 8th-century peak seen in the Southumbrian coin-dating charts is sometimes represented, as it is at Cottam B, but by much lower levels of coin finds. At most sites analysed in Northumbria, the significant Middle Saxon peak occurs much later, in the mid-9th century, and represents the local copper alloy coinage. The Late Saxon period is broadly similar to the Southumbrian pattern at Northumbrian sites where occupation continues, although there seem to be generally fewer finds of coinage from the later 9th and 10th centuries than at Southumbrian sites.

In most cases where sites north of the Humber analysed in VASLE do not show this dating pattern, there is an obvious explanation. The unusual coin-dating chart from Beverley (Fig. 124), for example is partly due to the majority of the coin finds from the site (23 of 32) coming from a coin-purse hoard, although a significant percentage of the remaining coins were also mid-9th-century Northumbrian copper alloy coins (Pirie 1991). For another four sites (Kilham, 'Near Malton productive site 1', 'Near Malton productive site 2', and Thwing) the dating chart appears to be a combination of the 'Southumbrian' and 'Northumbrian' types, as typified by the example from Kilham (Fig. 220) where both the early peak of the Southumbrian pattern and the 9th-century Northumbrian peaks are visible.

The remaining two Northumbrian sites, Coppergate and South Newbald, are quite distinctive. Both have been the subject of individual studies, and their histories do mark them out from the more 'mainstream' Northumbrian sites. The coin-dating chart from South Newbald (Fig. 320) shows an anomalously high percentage of 8th-century coins, although this is perhaps better interpreted as an anomalously low percentage of 9th-century low-denomination styca coins. Both metalwork and coin finds from the site have been the subject of detailed specialist analysis (Leahy 2000), and little more can be said about this obviously important site in the absence of controlled excavation.

The coin assemblage from the Coppergate site in York (Fig. 372) appears quite different from the Northumbrian pattern. However, this is probably understood as a basically 10th-century pattern (which is the same for sites on both sides of the Humber), modified by finds of the abundant 9th-century Northumbrian coinage from the 9th-century occupation which has been suggested to have taken place near, but not on, the excavated site.

A group of fourteen sites south of the Humber produced coin charts that did not fit into the 'Southumbrian' pattern outlined above. With the exception of two sites, these fell into three groups, as discussed below. The most notable exception was the site at Torksey (Fig. 340). The coin finds from this remarkable site must be considered anomalous owing to its extraordinary association with 9th-century Viking military activity, and discussion of them is best left to more detailed considerations of the site (Brown 2006).

The result from the site at Congham in Norfolk (Fig. 164) appears quite distinctive. However, like the small group of Northumbrian sites discussed above, it is probably a combination of two more usual patterns: a rather typical Late Saxon pattern of consistent and gradually increasing coinage through the 10th century, overlaid on a 'very early' Middle Saxon site, as discussed in the next section.

A group of four sites ('Bedford productive site', Coddenham, 'South Lincolnshire productive site', and Tilbury) show a large peak in the first one, two and/or three date-ranges (i.e. 700-775), but no coins after 775. Of the four sites, only Coddenham (Fig. 153) has any artefact records apart from the coin finds. As is clear from this chart, the site has been characterised as clearly Early/Middle Saxon, with much-reduced activity in the Late Saxon period. In the absence of further metalwork finds, however, this cannot be automatically extended to the other sites having only 8th-century coins.

A particular caution against assuming a direct correlation between dated coin finds and medieval activity comes from the assemblage from Caistor. The coin finds from this parish could not be closely dated as the data were sourced from the paper archive at the Norfolk HER, and there was not time within the project to follow the dating up more closely other than to identify the coins as Middle Saxon. However, from the brief descriptions that were gathered for many of them, most seem to have been sceattas, which would have dated to either the 700-25 or 725-50 date range, and no Middle or Late Saxon coins have been recovered from the parish that date after 800. However, the artefact dating chart (Fig. 141) reveals that nearly a third of the total artefacts recovered from the site (a total that would include this coin assemblage), were dated as Late Saxon, clearly suggesting that activity on the site did not cease in the Middle Saxon period.

A further group of five sites (Freckenham, Hollingbourne, Burgh Castle, Burton Fleming, and Richborough) produced charts showing only Middle Saxon coins, although without the dramatically early 8th-century emphasis of the group discussed in the section above. These were a rather more varied group. Hollingbourne (Fig. 212), for example, showed a clear peak in the early 8th century, but continued with fairly consistent single finds in each subsequent range until the end of the 10th century. A variant of this pattern, with a slightly lower assemblage, is seen in the collection of finds aggregated from the complex site in the parish of Freckenham (Fig. 200) in Suffolk and, to some extent, with an even smaller assemblage and even fewer later coins at the Burgh Castle (Fig. 128) site in Norfolk. A slightly different pattern is seen at Richborough (Fig. 284) in Kent, where the strong Middle Saxon peak is later than the typical early 8th-century one seen above, but is followed by an abrupt gap in the coin finds, which do not begin again until the later 10th century.

Two further sites had distinctive 'peaks' in single date-ranges of their coin-dating charts that did not fit into any of the patterns previously discussed. In the case of Quidenham (Fig. 276) a fairly typical 'Southumbrian' pattern of a high volume of coinage in the early 8th century and lower, but consistent, records through the later 9th and 10th centuries was interrupted by a rather anomalous peak in the 850-75 range. Only one of these coins was an example of the abundant Northumbrian mid-9th-century coinage, the rest being local East Anglian 'Edmund pennies'.

A similar group of East Anglian coinage, this time pennies of King Beonna, accounts for the anomalous mid-8th-century peak in the coin-dating chart from the site at Burrow Hill (Fig. 136) in Suffolk.


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